PREVIOUSLY RICH AND FAMOUS
Industry insiders are not short of adjectives to describe Mark Barnes.
“Brilliant”, “a maverick” and “difficult” all come easily to mind when describing the once highly regarded investment banker at Standard Corporate and Merchant Bank (SCMB) and former head of private equity giant Brait.
Barnes however has his own adjective. “I’m a PRAF – previously rich and famous,” he tells Finweek in an interview.
There are few executives in South Africa who capture the imagination in quite the same way. Barnes is outspoken, critical, battle-scarred and 10 years ago had an enviable track record. His more recent ventures through JSE listed
Purple Capital have been less than impressive and yet there is an underlying sense that he is one deal away from re-capturing his previous magic.
When Finweek sought out Barnes for an interview it was with the primary goal of trying to work out whether he still had that “it” factor. Could he still swing for the fences and would investors be rewarded if they backed him through his JSE listed investment company Purple Capital? The short answer is yes. How we reached that conclusion is a longer story.
Much like Discovery CEO Adrian Gore, Barnes comes across as one of those leaders who can convince you to buy into his vision on the strength of their personality and conviction that what they are doing will ultimately produce results. When you wrap up an interview with either of them there is the underlying sense that they can do anything they set their minds to.
However that is where the similarities end. Where Gore is clean-cut and straightlaced, Barnes isn’t standing on ceremony for anyone.
“I took up rose gardening to try and help me with the women,” he jokes as he
walks Finweek through his house in Forest Town, Johannesburg.
Women feature prominently on the walls of the Barnes residence with the house decorated with a number of provocative nudes that would make the uninitiated blush. Gore may be described as a risk-taker of sorts but it is hard to picture him having an image of a woman pleasuring herself in his entrance hall.
A walk into his study reveals a wall dedicated to his six children as well as a poster advertising a play entitled “A pineapple in my panties”.
“My eldest daughter Carly wrote that play,” he proudly explains before bringing out a photo of him preparing to sky-dive with two of his girls.
There is no shortage of colour and appetite for risk-taking in this family.
Just when the word “rogue” springs to mind, Barnes reveals another side to his personality.
In between learning Chopin on the piano he is also a collector of sorts. He proudly displays a Vusi Khumalo piece of art, a helicopter put together with a single piece of wire and a leatherbound thesis from 1939 detailing the impact of motor vehicle parking on the existing road infrastructure.
He snapped up the Khumalo piece early in the artist’s career for next to nothing and now estimates it to be worth hundreds of thousands. An eye for a good deal perhaps?
“I’m a collector of things that reflect human endeavour and innovation,” he says.
There is an old saying that to understand a man you need look no further than at the car he drives and in Barnes’ case this is perhaps the first visible sign where an outsider can start to understand how his life and career have evolved.
“I used to have five cars, but kept running out of parking space so now I am just down to a Toyota Hilux,” he says adding: “It’s amazing how differently people treat you on the roads in a Toyota. The cops were always looking for an excuse to pull over that prick in the Jag.”
Trivial perhaps but the transformation from Jaguar to Hilux sums up much of Barnes’ professional career.
Adopted at birth in the town of Belfast, Barnes secured qualifications from the University of Cape Town and Harvard as he rose through the ranks at SCMB to ultimately become deputy managing director at the same time that current Standard Bank executives Jacko Maree and Ben Kruger were climbing the corporate ladder.
He was selected as a member of the Standard Bank Group’s Executive Committee until he resigned in November 1996